Debate rages on extension of Urbana roads

The release of the Champaign Urbana Urbanized Area Transportation Study, or CUUATS, in November was met with some controversy.

The debate focused on whether Urbana should build roads that extend to the periphery or improve the existing central infrastructure.

Some people said they believe extending roads will increase sprawl instead of focusing on central development. Others said it will improve connectivity through the use of funds allocated for that purpose.

Eric Halvorsen, planner for CUUATS, said the projects outlined in the plan are intended to improve connectivity.

Planned improvements include an extension of Olympian Drive eastward to Rising Road and westward to U.S. Route 45; a northern extension of Lincoln Avenue to Olympian Drive; an eastern extension of Florida Avenue to IL-130; Windsor Road reconstruction between Philo Road and IL-130; and Curtis Road reconstruction between Rising Road and IL-130, according to the report.

Charlie Smyth, alderman for Ward 1, said he thinks it is more important to work on existing infrastructure instead of building new roads.

“We need complete streets that improve all forms of transportation,” Smyth said. “We don’t need roads to nowhere.”

Smyth said the Goodwin Avenue improvements are a good example of central improvements that provide connectivity for all forms of transportation.

“The majority of the students I’ve talked to say that they like going to Campustown because they can walk there,” Smyth said. “We need to work on improvements that facilitate buses, bikes and pedestrians.”

Morgan Johnston, University transportation demand management coordinator, said that at its core, the plan is about increasing redevelopment and increasing multi-modal transportation and not “growing on the edges.”

Halvorsen said the improvements outlined in the plan were federally funded; these funds tend to go toward building new roads and not making central improvements. Federal funds are secured for building new roads because this tends to be the most expensive.

“Most of the interior funding is covered at the local level,” he added. “That’s why we are able to use federal funds for exterior projects.”

Johnston said cooperation between the campus and the city has always been excellent.

“The Long Range Transportation Plan goals are in line with the campus transportation goals,” she said. “We really agree about what needs to be done but we’re working with limited resources.”

She said the campus and the city work with each other and the financial burden taken by the campus and city respectively depends on the project.

“It is always a negotiation,” Johnston added. “It depends on the funding priorities for the cities and University.”

Johnston said one of the new roads, Olympian Drive, provides a much needed connection which will substantially reduce the number of miles traveled by motor vehicles going east/west between Market Street and Mattis Avenue.

Smyth said the federal government has it backwards and that building new roads will create sprawl.

“In the plan they talked about green this and green that,” he added. “But it is basically a program for building new roads and increasing sprawl.”

Sprawl prioritizes transportation because it forces people to make longer commutes to the interior where they work, Smyth said.

“If Urbana doesn’t want sprawling development then that has to come from them,” Halvorsen said. “We need to work with our municipal partners and they need to work with us.”

Smyth said sprawl would cause people to suffer due to rising gas prices and the city should avoid this through tighter development.

Brandon Bowersox, alderman for Ward 4, said outward expansion is inconsistent with the goals set in the plan for reduced vehicular miles traveled.

“This plan projects an 84 percent increase in miles traveled in the number of years when we want to reduce greenhouse gases by 80 percent,” Bowersox said.

Halvorsen said policy makers, not those who released CUUATS, set the priority.

“We just catch the heat because we make the documents,” Halvorsen said.